28 June 2006
UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Concludes with Adoption of Final Document
Participants Call on Israel to Halt Gaza Invasion, Stop Escalating Crisis
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
VIENNA, 28 June -- At the close this evening of the International Meeting, convened by the Palestinian Rights Committee to demonstrate the unswerving commitment of the world community to resolving the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and search for ways to stabilize that volatile situation, participants examined international efforts to settle the conflict and stressed the urgent need to resume the political dialogue.
A Final Document adopted by the participants, which included United Nations representatives, internationally renowned experts from the region, parliamentarians, and members of the academic community and civil society, expressed particular concern at the recent upsurge in violence and its destructive effect on the hopes for peace. The text condemned the intensified military strikes, incursions and extrajudicial assassinations by Israel, and called on it to halt its invasion of Gaza, withdraw from the Strip, and stop escalating the current crisis.
Alarmed at the large number of Palestinian civilians killed in the last few weeks and believing that that escalation warranted an impartial international investigation, the participants supported a request to the Secretary-General to facilitate such an investigation. They also called for the cessation of rocket attacks on Israel carried out by Palestinian groups from the Gaza Strip. Those actions put civilians in serious danger and inflamed and destabilized the already fragile situation, they said.
Participants welcomed the agreement on the National Conciliation Document, or "Prisoners Document", reached between Palestinian political groups on 26 June, and expressed strong support for efforts by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which led to the agreement. They urged him to continue to bring together all political trends of the Palestinian society and convince them to speak with one voice and to comply with existing obligations undertaken by the Palestinian leadership.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said that the invasion of Gaza, which began at midnight last night, had cast a pall over the Meeting. That aggression required a condemnation from all and a demand that Israel, the occupying Power, stop that aggression immediately and withdraw its troops to outside Gaza. The Palestinian leadership, including President Abbas and the Cabinet, had indicated from the beginning of the situation, that they called on those who were holding the Israeli soldier to treat him in accordance with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and for his immediate release unharmed. As they were doing everything possible to accomplish those objectives, the Israeli aggression had no basis, whatsoever.
Also calling on Israel to stop its invasion into Gaza, the Committee Chairman, Paul Badji (Senegal), closed the meeting by reviewing the thrust of the deliberations over the past two days. Among other topics, participants had discussed the level of the commitment of the parties to a platform of peace, expressing concern that the prospects were undermined by Israeli plans to unilaterally determine its borders with the West Bank. With all the changes in the political landscape discussed here, some of its features had stayed the same. One of them was the permanent responsibility and engagement of the United Nations. Another was the contribution of civil society to building bridges of trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
Earlier today, in the third plenary, the role of the Quartet -- the United Nations led by the Secretary-General, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation -- merited particular attention. The Director of the Conflict Resolution Programme of the Carter Center in the United States, Mathew Hodes, suggested that the Quartet was not really a quartet. No matter how its actions were analysed, the United States represented its centre and held the most power within that alliance. He shared former President Jimmy Carter's view that the United States remained the sole actor in the region capable of bringing the parties together. Although it had been suggested at the Meeting that the United States could not be a mediator in the Middle East conflict because it was too close to the Israelis, that was precisely why the United States could be the mediator -- it was the one actor that could get the Israelis to deliver in the long run.
Addressing the role of the United Nations in the context of Middle East peace, specifically in the Quartet, Peter Hansen, the former Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said the utility of the Quartet overall had been questioned, as had whether participation in it had subtracted from the role of the United Nations. Great care should be taken not to undermine the Organization's credibility. Indeed, there were those who would say that being part of the Quartet was thinking outside the box, but maybe that was thinking inside the box, which was "a coffin for the legitimacy and utility of the United Nations".
Opening the third plenary, on international efforts in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace, MATHEW HODES, Director, Conflict Resolution Programme, the Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia, United States, said that conflicts -- their size, shape and number -- had been the subject of study over time. Approximately 60 conflicts had taken place around the world since the end of the cold war, but none of them had resonated in the same way globally as the one between the Israelis and Palestinians. And, not one had created the need for a United Nations Committee or Division, such as the ones established in New York.
He suggested that the Quartet was not really a quartet. No matter how its actions were analysed, the United States represented its centre and it held the most power within that alliance. The Quartet's emphasis, however, was on process, rather than product. The two things that Oslo and the Road Map had in common were that neither had defined a destination. A peace process without a concluding "paragraph" did not have a destination. That remained the problem with the Road Map; there was no destination, but only phases. Right now, the conversation centred on something that looked like phase 2 -- some kind of interim state with temporary borders. But, the Road Map did not allow phase 2 to get under way without first completing phase 1.
In the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace, he said that the domestic politics of the United States played a considerable role in the decisions of the Government. He shared former President Jimmy Carter's view that the United States remained the sole actor in the region capable of bringing the parties together. Harald Haas, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Strategic Research in Vienna, who spoke earlier today, had said that the United States could not be a mediator because it was too close to the Israelis, but that was precisely why the United States could be the mediator. It was the one actor who could cause the Israelis to deliver in the long run. That role did not belong to the European Union countries, the Russians or even the United Nations. And, history had suggested that the United States had walked an interesting tightrope, maintaining the interests of Israelis while weighing those of Israel's neighbours. So, while Israel's relationship to the United States had always been close, new nuances should be considered before one suggested that the United States could not and should not play a role, even though the situation was in a new phase of recalibrations.
The main regional partners -- Egypt and Jordan -- each had its own set of self-interests, which guided their involvement, but these were consistent with the international goals of stability and peace in the region. Two themes should be kept in mind: both Egyptians and Jordanians recognized that they were under a certain amount of stress by the Islamist movements within their own societies, but that that was not sufficient to cause either of those regimes to collapse. That did cause those Governments to respond to that pressure, however. At the same time, regional activities could not be pursued as long as violence persisted among the Israelis and Palestinians. In the case of the Egyptians, the overriding concern was the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. There was also the view that Hamas was not an independent force. Some Egyptians believed that Hamas was nothing more than a "branch office" of the Muslim Brotherhood. Because of the Egyptians' historical and traditional role, they held a special relationship with the issue -- thus, the credibility of the Egyptian Government remained high among the various Palestinian factions, just as it remained high among the Israelis. Egypt had an important role in maintaining stability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the Egyptian Government wanted. It did not want instability on its own border.
In the case of the Jordanians -- because of the common border on the Jordan River Valley and the demographics inside Jordan, that country occupied a different space, he said. The demographic pressures, which could be created if the Israelis "squeezed" the Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan, could not be ignored. The Jordanian Government was also wary of Islamist movements, including that of Hamas, in its midst. So, Jordan was caught between the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the one hand, and the situation in Iraq, on the other. The terrorist attacks in Amman had been an indication of how instability could impact Jordanian society. Jordan's balancing role was shaped by its interest in maintaining good relations with the Israeli Government. In fact, Jordan was already discussing joint efforts with Israel in the sphere of economic development, such as building a joint airport.
In conclusion, he said that self-interest should be looked at carefully in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and focusing on moral suasion as a means of pushing the parties together, making it possible for them to talk whenever the opportunity presented itself, should not be underestimated.
YAHYA A. MAHMASSANI, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the United Nations, said that, in addressing the role of regional partners in efforts to resume the political process, it was essential to dwell on the root cause of the problem. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was basically a conflict over Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The numerous attempts made to resolve that conflict had not borne fruits so far because of Israeli policy to annex and occupy parts of the Palestinian territory.
He said it was clear by now that there was no military solution to the conflict. The occupation must be brought to an end by adhering to the basics of the peace process, namely the Road Map, the Arab Peace Initiative, implementation of Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and the principle of "land for peace", and most recently Security Council resolution 1397 with its vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders.
The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, since 1967, was a source of the current and continuing problems, which had remained unresolved for decades, he said. Those problems included the Palestinian refugees, the illegal settlements, the illegal construction of the separation wall, the status of Jerusalem, and the continued confiscation and destruction of the land in which the future Palestinian state was to be established, as well as the targeting of civilian populations.
Reviewing attempts to launch a peace process, and the major agreements that had emerged as a result, he said that throughout those attempts, Israel had showed little support to implement or abide by the agreements and declarations. For example, in May 2000, five months before the Al Aqsa intifada, a survey by the Centre for Peace Research at the University of Tel Aviv had found that 39 per cent of all Israelis supported the Oslo Accords, and by May 2004, only 26 per cent of Israelis supported the accords. Meanwhile, successive Israeli governments continued to follow a military option to resolve the conflict, an option that had proved its futility and brought further casualties, misery and destruction.
He said that the Arab countries had committed themselves to peace under several initiatives, including that which had emerged in 1991 at the Madrid Peace Conference, the 1996 Arab Summit Conference, the 2001 Egyptian-Jordan Peace Initiative, and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Unfortunately, the Road Map had yet to "hit the road" and to be implemented. Israeli politics and the pursuit of military options had been instrumental in delaying the Road Map's implementation. Settlements had been expanded, a separation wall was being built on Palestinian land in violation of the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion, and a policy of resolving the conflict by force continued unabated.
For more than five years, no serious peace talks had taken place between Israelis and Palestinians, he said. To achieve peace, stability and security for both sides required that the international community and the Quartet to exert efforts to "revive and salvage" the peace process. That would include: a complete cessation of Israel's settlement policy; a complete cessation of the construction of the wall; ensuring that East Jerusalem was the future capital of Palestine; the withdrawal of Israel from the territory occupied in 1967 and an end to the occupation; implementation of the two-State vision, with the establishment of an independent State of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders; a just and fair solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees; and the reversal of Israel's ongoing unilateral measures.
Noting the recent announcements that Israel would resume negotiations with the Palestinian side to implement the Road Map and achieve peace, leading to an independent State of Palestine, living side by side with Israel, he said he looked forward to seeing such statements put into action. A resolution of the conflict was long overdue. It was time for both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue the peace process and achieve a negotiated settlement, leading to a just solution and a permanent peace.
Addressing the role of the United Nations in the context of Middle East peace, PETER HANSEN, former Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said the region was a "true roller coaster that has been mainly driving down" in the 10 years he lived in Gaza. During his time there, the desire had been to wind down UNRWA, as there would be no more Palestinian refugees for it to take care of. The situation today was quite different. The UNRWA was pushing 60, which was the retirement age for the United Nations, but unfortunately he did not see any retirement for that Agency in the near future. Paradoxically, many who had maligned the Agency and had wanted to see it shut down could now see no tasks for which it was not needed.
He said there was a misperception about the United Nations as a unitary actor. That made it easy for anyone who wanted to denigrate the Organization or its role. The United Nations was many things to different people, but it was definitely not a unitary actor. On one level, there were the main organs, or the General Assembly and the Security Council, which were occupied with adopting resolutions. Those over time served as the collective voice of the Organization, giving it a rather high level of legitimacy. The International Court of Justice was separate, but also at that level. At another level were several organs in the region, and the most dominant among them in the Middle East was UNRWA. But, there was also the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other specialized agencies. There were also special rapporteurs, who could speak with special authority and legitimacy, and, of course, there was the Secretary-General with the Secretariat and his special envoys.
So, the United Nations was a multi-headed, complicated structure, often without well-defined, or separate, functions, he said. There was the normative structure, which created norms and obligations, defining right from wrong. There was a second function of applying those norms. A third area was that of mediating or adjudicating when there was disagreement. And, finally, there was the function of enforcing the rules. But, the Organization did not have a one-size-fits-all structure.
In terms of where the United Nations had a distinct advantage over other actors, unfortunately, he said there was within the Organization today a great deal of obsessions about streamlining and coherence -- everything was supposed to fit into a nice hierarchical pattern, but none of it really did. Political and humanitarian efforts, for example, did not fit seamlessly into a structure. Regarding the humanitarian aspect of the Middle East struggle, there could be no objective assessment. Rather, that was a matter of political expediency. As a result, double standards often emerged. There was a particular tension between the functions. There was tension, on the one hand, between the norm-creating function and, on the other hand, the mediating or negotiating function, which involved compromising those principles and norms. It was not possible to do both well at the same time.
He said that the United Nations had a lot of resources at the normative level, but very few in other areas. Thus, why would it push itself onto the negotiating table? That raised questions about the utility of the Quartet and about which member of the Quartet contributed any added value to the negotiations. Alternatively, the question was raised about how much participation in the Quartet had subtracted from the role of the United Nations, in terms of legitimacy and normative contributions. The answer might raise questions from the standpoint of multilateralism.
None of the setting of boundaries between the different functions was easy, and there were various trade-offs to consider, but unless those questions were asked of the United Nations and the process, the utility of that very important instrument was not being fully used. Great care should also be taken not to undermine the Organization's credibility. Indeed, there were those who would say that being part of the Quartet was thinking outside the box, but maybe that was thinking inside the box, which was "a coffin for the legitimacy and utility of the United Nations".
NEVE GORDON, Professor, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel, said he had been asked to talk about peace initiatives in the context of the academic community, but there really were no new peace initiatives. The main issue within the Israeli academic community, and probably within the territories, was the academic boycott. The boycott was firmly linked to the question of peace, insofar as it was considered an effective tool to pressure the Israeli Government to abide by United Nations resolutions. And, those texts should inform any peace initiative. There was, in fact, a boycott of the Palestinian Authority, and since the 1980s, universities in the Occupied Territory had been sanctioned by the Government and repeatedly closed. Professors could not go to conferences, and students could not reach the universities.
Turning to other facts on the ground, he said there had not really been a withdrawal of power from the Gaza Strip, but only a reorganization of power. Almost one year after Israel's withdrawal, Gazans were further limited in terms of resources, mobility, and decision-making. Although Israeli soldiers, until today, had not been deployed in Gazan cities, villages and refugee camps, Israeli had been using more remote technologies to control the population, such as surveillance aircraft, robots, and F-16 fighter jets. And, Israeli universities had been complicit in that continuing occupation. University research departments had developed the technologies used in the occupied territory to control the population; night vision capacity was just one example. Professors of the social sciences and humanities constantly provided secret services with advice and moral rationales, even to the point of justifying extrajudicial executions by Israel.
He said that Israeli universities as institutions had not supported their Palestinian colleagues. Palestinian academic institutions had been closed for months on end, and Palestinian students had been denied their right to education. All the while, their Israeli counterparts had remained silent. Boycotts had been used in the past, such as in South Africa, to bring about political and social change. Many Israeli academics were outspoken against the occupation and the rights-abusive policies of their Government. Some were even at the forefront of the struggle against occupation. But, democracy had to come from below, and not from above; cutting off the King's head alone would not do the job. One could not write off the internal struggle to end occupation, and it was crucial to empower the forces inside Israel that were fighting for democracy.
However, he said, he personally could not call on the international community to impose a boycott against himself and his country without losing legitimacy in his own society. Thus, he was against an academic boycott, but he sought to emphasize the internal struggle. The question was how academics could contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict based on the principles of peace and justice.
RIAD MALKI, Director-General of Panorama, the Palestinian Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development in Jerusalem, said he had been asked to talk about building bridges with civil society. Only now, the Israelis were destroying bridges in Gaza, literally, which made the point of reference somewhat awkward. In January 2005, following the election of President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians were hopeful because his political platform had advocated peace with the Israelis. During that period, the European Union proposed to focus on peacebuilding between the two sides and called for proposals. Panorama had responded to that call and to take advantage of the positive atmosphere created by the election. So, he set up a Palestinian and Israeli peace forum.
After presenting that proposal to the European Union at the start of this year, he said he had received a positive response and was happy to be able to initiate it. Then came the results of the 25 January elections, with the victory of Hamas. When the proposal was first presented, Mr. Malki had approached President Abbas, who had given the proposal his endorsement. Again, Mr. Malki approached President Abbas, who said it did not matter who had won the elections - Panorama's proposal should be initiated. In March, some 50 to 60 Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attended the planning meeting, and last week, he organized the first bilateral meeting on the Jordan side of the Dead Sea with his Israeli counterparts. The same number of Israeli NGOs attended the meeting. A joint declaration emerged, but just as it was about to be issued, an Israeli soldier was abducted.
At that point, his Israeli counterpart said a call should be added to the declaration for the release of the soldier, he went on. So, he consulted the Palestinian NGO representatives, who agreed to include that point only if the document included the need to release the Palestinian prisoners, including women and children. When that request was put to the Israeli side, the Israelis declined to include that. So in the end, there was no declaration, no press release from their joint effort. That was the reality. There were a lot of people committed to the pursuit of peace on both sides, but the reality was "stronger than that, and sometimes we cannot separate ourselves from that reality". The situation as reflected in each side's eyes presented a distorted image that was a mix of reality, fiction, ignorance, and negation of each other's existence and rights. The reality was also one of asymmetry between the two sides.
He said that the point of departure was more complicated than anyone had thought, when 60 to 70 per cent of the people on both sides continued to support peace through a negotiated settlement, yet, an equal percentage on both sides supported armed resistance, armed struggle and military attacks. That was the irony: on the one hand, the people wanted peace and supported that; and, on the other hand, they were, on both sides, very much influenced by events on the ground. Underpinning that was a complete lack of trust.
Adoption of Final Document
As the Meeting drew to a close, participants adopted a Final Document, in which they agreed, among other points, that there was an urgent need to resume a meaningful political dialogue between the parties. They expressed particular concern at the recent upsurge in violence and its destructive effect on the hopes for peace, and called for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire as a first step. Participants also reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to the question of Palestine, until it was resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law, and until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were fully realized in all aspects.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said that the invasion of Gaza, which began at midnight last night, had cast a pall over the Meeting. That aggression required a condemnation from all and a demand that Israel, the occupying Power, stop that aggression immediately and withdraw its troops to outside Gaza. The Palestinian leadership, including President Abbas and the Cabinet, had indicated from the beginning of the situation that they called on those who were holding the Israeli soldier to treat him in accordance with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and for his immediate release unharmed. They indicated that they were doing everything possible to accomplish those objectives. Thus, the Israeli aggression had no basis, whatsoever.
Continuing, he said that the capture of a soldier was not a reason to unleash that massive aggression, which, if it continued, would lead to the further killing of large numbers of civilians on the Palestinian side. That, in turn, would prompt aggression from the Palestinian side to the Israeli side, leading to a further loss of life of Israelis. Thus, unleashing that aggression under the pretext of saving lives would result in the killing of large numbers of persons on both sides. Hopefully, the Palestinian leadership could convince the Israeli leaders to stop that aggression and withdraw their forces.
Despite that dark cloud, a great accomplishment had occurred yesterday, namely agreement on the prisoners' document, for which President Abbas had played a key role. He had played a key role in accomplishing the unilateral ceasefire and in convincing political groups to participate in the local "PLC" elections, drawing groups formerly not involved in the political process into the Government. The Israeli Prime Minister was not being faithful to the feeling prevailing among the Israelis at the moment. Responsible leaders should not "lose their heads". If 70 per cent of the people inside Israel favoured peace and the same percentage were "for killing", and a similar split existed on the Palestinian side, it was the responsibility of genuine leaders to actualize positive aspects of the thinking of the people.
Closing the Meeting, Committee Chairman PAUL BADJI called on Israel to stop its invasion into Gaza. Speakers during the meetings had discussed the current status of the situation and efforts by the international community to bring it back on track and move it forward, stressing that a negotiated settlement was the only way to resolve the conflict. They had also assessed the challenges standing in the way of the political process. Participants had also discussed the level of commitment of the parties to a platform of peace, as well as the ways and means to enhance its prospects, based on the goals of the Road Map and the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative.
In addition, speakers had expressed concern that those prospects were undermined by Israeli plans to unilaterally determine its borders with the West Bank. Deliberations had also underlined the importance of upholding international law, including United Nations resolutions, and of finding a solution to the conflict. The significance of the ICJ Advisory Opinion had also been emphasized. Discussions delved into international efforts in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The role of the Quartet -- the United Nations led by the Secretary-General, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation -- merited particular attention. Discussions also reflected the fact that the regional stakeholders now played a crucial role with regional developments growing increasingly complex and interrelated. Donor assistance had been at the centre of many debates lately, and participants reflected on the special role to be played by the donor community.
However, he said, with all the changes in the political landscape discussed here, some of its features stayed the same. One of them was the permanent responsibility and engagement of the United Nations. Another was the contribution of civil society to building bridges of trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
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